professional responsibility; courts; judicial regulation; ethics


This Article examines the judicial role in professional ethics regulation through the lens of the judiciary’s own self-governance on sexual misconduct. The #MeToo movement exposed the long-enduring silence of the courts. Headlines featured judges like Alex Kozinski, who retired from the Ninth Circuit in 2018 after numerous former clerks went to the media with credible allegations of sexual misconduct. In 2019, at the instruction of Chief Justice Roberts, the federal judiciary amended the Code of Conduct for United States Judges to make clear that misconduct includes unwanted, offensive, or abusive sexual conduct and to include protections for those who report such behavior. But many argue the reforms do not go far enough. Congress, in the wake of media outcries, held hearings in early 2020. The judiciary’s tepid response holds consequences not only for the judges and the survivors of sexual misconduct but also for the legal profession as a whole. Leaving meaningful #MeToo remedies to journalists and lawmakers threatens judicial independence; it sets a precedent that could influence further intervention into other areas of professional conduct governance that is traditionally reserved for the courts. After offering additional reforms for addressing sexual misconduct in the judiciary, this Article concludes by reflecting on lessons that can be drawn about the judicial role in professional ethics regulation more broadly.

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